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PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE

JUNE 2019

final evaluation

PREPARED BY
ROBYN MCLEAN, TAPESTRY EVALUATION AND STRATEGY
prairie organic grain initiative

ABOUT THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN INITIATIVE

The Prairie Organic Grain Initiative (POGI) ran from October 2014 - June 2019, and was
dedicated to achieving resilience and stability in the prairie organic sector by focusing on
increasing the quantity and quality of organic grains, and developing relationships across
organic market value chains. By working together with farmers, researchers, government,
NGOs, processors, brokers, buyers, and certification bodies, the Prairie Organic Grain
Initiative brought together the organic community across the Prairies to achieve the
common goal of resilience and stability in the sector.

Partners: Organic Alberta, SaskOrganics, Total project funding of $2.2 Million:


Manitoba Organic Alliance, Certified Western Economic Diversification $1.2
Organic Associations of British Columbia Million; Industry $968,000; Provinces
(COABC), as well as The Canadian Organic $32,000. Key industry funders include:
Trade Association (COTA), The Canadian The Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian
Organic Growers, The Organic Agriculture Seed Security, General Mills, Dave’s Killer
Centre of Canada (OACC), and The Bauta Bread, Organic Federation of Canada
Family Initiative on Canadian Seed (OFC), Organic Agriculture Centre of
Security. Other industry stakeholders Canada (OACC), Grain Millers, Nature’s
include organic processors, brokers, Path Foods, Growers International, PHS
buyers, and certification bodies. Organics, and Clif Bar & Company.

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what's next?
The organic sector on the Prairies is to support the initiative through funding
currently pursuing various options for the Prairie Organic Development Fund, and
continuing the legacy of the Prairie Organic until future funding is in place, Organic
Grain Initiative, including creating national Alberta will continue to maintain the core
partnerships and applying for federal program areas, such as the Pivot and Grow
government grants. The industry continues website and the 1-800 number.

evaluation
Tapestry Evaluation and Strategy carried out an
external evaluation to better understand the
process and effectiveness of POGI in meeting
its desired outcomes, as well as to help guide
planning for the next phase of this work.
Information was collected through interviews
and surveys with more than 80 organic and
transitioning farmers, interviews with sector-
level experts and grain buyers, data from
Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA), POGI
program records, and discussions with POGI
staff and partners. Overall, findings suggest
that POGI has contributed to outcomes such as
increasing collaboration across the value chain,
developing useful tools for farmers, supporting
farmers’ increasing best management practices
for addressing quality and quantity of organic
grain, increasing market access for organic
grain on the Prairies and supporting transition
to organic management. POGI also helped the
sector work toward increased stability and
resilience. These changes will be outlined in
this report, along with recommendations on
how to proceed to further strengthen the
organic grain sector.

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findings
DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN
INITIATIVE INCREASE COLLABORATION
IN THE ORGANIC SECTOR? -- YES.

The Prairie Organic Grain


Initiative aimed to address
issues that are complex and not “That collaboration
able to be solved by individual is there - that has
organizations or individual built trust. Inviting
regions. The model for POGI
the bigger brands
aimed to increase collaboration
in the supply chain
in the sector, largely by forming
steering and advisory has lent credibility
committees made up of to the farmers.”
members of the three organic - Funder
associations from
Saskatchewan, Alberta and
Manitoba, farmers, industry,
“They are already
POGI funders, and government.
  forging a path,
Evaluation findings suggested building a
that this model has been foundation on
effective for increasing which other more
discussion, identifying the gaps
tangible
in the sector, and putting action
improvements can
into place to address those
gaps. The project also be built.”
significantly increased the - Researcher
funding available to address the
gaps, transforming the sector
and creating a foundation to
“Overall, really
continue this work in the future.
really impressed
3 Provincial Organizations with what they
15+ Sponsors and Industry have done/
Funders
achieved. Quite
30+ Teleconferences and
Sharing Sessions
transformational.”
25+ Industry representatives, - Farmer and
farmers, and organic Consultant
association representatives
on advisory committees

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improvements & next steps

Based on feedback on the partnership structure for the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative
(POGI), future initiatives would benefit from many similar structures and processes.
However, now that the models and tools are developed, it will be possible to direct even
more funds to programs and extension support for farmers. Future initiatives should also
improve on the partnership structure from POGI by:

Increasing the role of provincial partners in program development and decision-making,


and increase opportunities for developing capacity of provincial partners.
Getting oversight and management from an interprovincial organization rather than from
one of the provincial organizations. Organic Alberta took on this role for POGI, while the
Prairie Organic Development Fund may take on this role for future programs.

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findings
DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN
INITIATIVE DEVELOP USEFUL TOOLS
FOR ORGANIC GRAIN FARMERS AND
AGRONOMISTS? -- YES.

The goal of the Prairie


Organic Grain Initiative was “Used the [green
to develop a comprehensive manure toolkit] and
loved it. This was one of
group of tools that would
my top rated tools that I
allow farmers to choose recommended to other
what would be most useful producers... a great
to them. Tools provided management tool to
information and support develop or further
related to organic improve my green
production, transition to manure plan.”
- Farmer
organic and/or access to
markets.
"I think that the biggest
help has been
See Figures 1 and 2 on page information around
6 for the number of farmers seeding rates and
who used the tools from intercrops. I got that
2015 through June 2019. information from the
There were also almost Organic Alberta
conferences and
46,000 users to
windjamming- for lack
pivotandgrow.com. (Note of a better word- with
that the numbers include other patrons there.”
those who used the tools - Farmer
more than once).
“I think the access to a
Farmers and sector experts broad range of
information that’s been
provided feedback that the
locally adapted has
tools were useful and met
been really valuable.
the needs of the sector, You can do a lot of
especially when farmers reading but not a lot is
combine a few of the tools geared towards our
to meet their needs. Some climate so it's hard to
of the tools that seemed know without local
most useful included the experience. POGI's been
good about pushing
online green manure
research in local
toolkit, field days, systems which is what
workshops and conferences, we need more of.”  
and the nutrient - Farmer
management program.

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FIGURE 1: NUMBER USING POGI TOOLS BETWEEN 2015 AND 2019

Pr oduct i on Wor kshops 1676

Fi el d Days 1390

Tr ansi t i on Wor kshops 1024

Cof f ee Shop Tal ks 446

Far m Cl ubs 261

1- 800 Number 192

Agr onomy Tr ai ni ng 191

Pr oducer Pr esent at i ons 1 5 9

Agr onomy Webi nar s 90

Nut r i ent Management 52


0 500 1,000 1,500 2,000

FIGURE 2: NUMBER OF UNIQUE PAGE VIEWS


ON PIVOTANDGROW.COM BETWEEN 2016 AND 2018
Pr i ce Li st s 28,693

Busi ness t o Busi ness


6830
Di r ect or y
Or gani c Gr ai n Buyer s 3052

Far mer Pr of i l es 2524

Gr een Manur e Tool ki t 2505

New Far mer Ki t 2214

Event Li st i ngs 2161

Busi ness Case


1655
f or Or gani c
0 10,000 20,000 30,000

improvements & next steps


Based on feedback from farmers and sector experts, future programs should focus on:

Increasing agronomy/ extension support for farmers.


Focusing even more on helping farmers connect with and learn from each other.
Increasing farmer awareness of the tools developed in the last four years, especially the
tools on pivotandgrow.com and the 1-800 agronomy support number with some changes
to individual tools that need improvement.
Expanding our reach even further by offering production support and tools to farmers
outside organic management.

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findings
DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN
INITIATIVE INCREASE THE QUALITY AND
QUANTITY OF ORGANIC GRAIN? 
-- ON THE RIGHT TRACK.

It can take time for people to


put things into practice after “Added green manure
learning about them. It can take crops to the rotation –
even more time to see results seeing a benefit in the
on a farm after making changes. land. Will continue to
incorporate into the
Evaluation findings suggested rotation. Using clover
that it is too early to expect plough down and
major changes in quality and trying peas - lots of
quantity of organic grain. trial and error. Plough
Findings also showed that POGI downs in the rotation
has created a strong foundation were the results of
that will lead to changes in looking into these
quality and quantity moving resources.”
forward.
- Farmer

In particular, 58% of the 39


“The change in cattle
organic farmers we
management and the
interviewed reported that the
decision to import off-
Prairie Organic Grain
farm manure was the
Initiative had significantly
contributed to management biggest change in farm
changes on their farm (see management as a
Figure 3 below). From most to result of the nutrient
least common, these included management tools. …
changes in soil health practices, The discussions that
crop rotations, green manure come from the fields
management, seeding or days have really helped
harvest practices, reducing or problem solve what is
stopping summer fallow, and the best way to
intercrops and/or polycrops. perform a task on the
These are practices that have operation – such as
been shown to help build and when to harrow, how
maintain soil fertility and aggressive, etc.”
improve the quality and
– Farmer
quantity of grain.

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FIGURE 3: HOW DID POGI TOOLS CONTRIBUTE TO
CHANGES MADE ON YOUR FARM?

Directly Contributed 58%

Unsure 23%

11%

Other Factors
10%
Contributed More

Changed Plans for


8%
Next Season
0% 20% 40% 60%

improvements & next steps

In order to continue to work toward increased quality and quantity of organic grains in the
organic grain sector in Canada, future programs should:

Bring together a comprehensive extension network of farmers, experts and scientists to


identify: 1) best management practices that are most promising for increasing quality and
quantity of organic grain, and 2) an effective plan for helping farmers adopt these best
management practices.
Continue to deliver high quality programming and support for organic production,
including “high impact" activities which are more individualized for the needs of
individual farms.
Increase collection of quality data to inform planning. This will include: basic
benchmarking data on the number of producers and acres of specific organic field crops
at a national level, along with new measures such as regional average crop yields across
the country, organic grain prices, total value of organic field crops, grain carry over,
storage capacity, etc.

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findings
DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN
INITIATIVE SUPPORT TRANSITION TO
ORGANIC MANAGEMENT? -- YES.

There was a 47% increase in the


number of acres of organic field
crops in the Canadian Prairies
“The expenses or
from 2014 to 2018 (see figure 4 the overhead of
below). conventional
There are many things that can farming vs organic.
lead to the decision to transition I wanted to lower
to organic management, and many my input cost. And
factors that can determine success
during that transition period. yes, POGI has
Farmers listed financial supported my
considerations, reducing inputs or
decision to
price of inputs, and sustainability
as reasons for transitioning to transition -  the
organic management. A few workshop was
farmers also mentioned that it was
really good.”
helpful to talk to other organic
farmers or that they made their - Farmer
decision to transition based on
those conversations. Many farmers
we interviewed felt that the POGI
“The green manure
transition tools were useful and kit was especially
supported their transition (see useful and did help
quotes).
in my transition to
We would not expect POGI to be a organic farming.”
main reason for farmers to - Farmer
transition. The goal of the POGI
tools aimed at conventional and
transitioning farmers was to “The field days
provide information to help
have lots of
farmers make a decision either
way, and to provide support to information that is
ensure that the transition process applicable to
is successful. Most of the 32
conventional farms,
farmers we interviewed who had
used POGI tools had recently so even though we
transitioned or were currently are not organic
transitioning to organic
management (21), and the
(and may never be),
remainder were interested or the research is
undecided (11) 1. helpful to our
1
Though no farmers indicated on the survey that
farm.”
they had decided not to transition to organic
management, there were two conventional
- Farmer
farmers that we contacted who did not want to
fill out a survey.

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FIGURE 4: NUMBER OF ORGANIC ACRES OF
1,000,000 PRAIRIE ORGANIC FIELD CROPS, 2014 - 2018

750,000

500,000

656,232 664,554 762,271 839,700 963,005

250,000

0
2014 2015 2016 2017 2018

improvements & next steps

In order to continue to work toward supporting transition to organic management, future


programs should:

Continue to support those that are interested in transitioning and those currently in the
transition process.
Improve relationships between organic and conventional agriculture, for example by
offering information and tools about best management practices that can benefit all
farmers.

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findings
DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN
INITIATIVE INCREASE MARKET ACCESS
FOR PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN? -- YES.

The Prairie Organic Grain


Initiative aimed to increase “The trade shows
market access by creating an Increased our sales.
international brand and key Supporting farmers
messaging for Prairie Organic and others to attend
Grains, improving information trade shows is
sharing across the value successful for getting
chain, integrating data more buyers
collection and sharing of data, connected to prairie
and by organizing trade organic grain.”
missions and other events to - Farmer
encourage networking for
sellers and others in the value “Market
chain. diversification is part
of our strategy. Won’t
We completed interviews with be able to sell to US
18 grain producers, in the future, so it is
processors, buyers and others important to dip into
along the value chain for many pools. Sales go
feedback about the Prairie in cycles for us,
Organic Grain Initiative's meeting a prospect to
support to attend trade selling to a prospect
shows. These stakeholders is over a year
valued trade shows for the endeavor.”
space to network, build - Farmer
trusting relationships with
potential and existing buyers "The network of
and to stay connected to the producers to talk to
market. Many reported making and buyers to sell
new contacts and finding new through has
buyers, and others reported expanded through
that trade shows should be POGI. ... POGI has
seen more as a part of multi- brought more
year sales strategy that may attention to the
not immediately lead to new Canadian prairies
sales. Many find it expensive from North American
to attend trade shows and buyers.”
were grateful for the subsidies - Farmer
provided to attend.

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findings
30+ 97 58 $13M
CONTRACTS SME'S
FROM
TRADE ATTENDING PURSUING A ESTIMATED
SHOWS TRADE NEW TRADE INCREASE IN
ATTENDED SHOWS INVESTMENT SALES

improvements & next steps

Future programs should continue to prioritize Increasing markets and market access, with
both a domestic and an export focus.

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findings
DID THE PRAIRIE ORGANIC GRAIN
INITIATIVE HELP THE SECTOR WORK
TOWARD INCREASED STABILITY AND
RESILIENCE? -- ON THE RIGHT TRACK.

One of the main goals of the


Prairie Organic Grain
Initiative was to increase
"Soil health ... means
resilience of the sector, seen
as the capacity of the sector that I’ll be able to
to persist or adapt in the continue to grow
f a c e o f s t r e s s e s o r s h o c k s. crop in a changing
See page 15 for more climate and
information about what a
hopefully whoever
resilient grain sector in
Canada and the Prairies would farms the land after
look like. I do will have the
same opportunity…
Evaluation findings suggest [My] soil tilth is
that POGI has contributed to definitely improving
the resilience of the Prairie
after some of the
Organic Grain sector by:
green manure
Encouraging farmers to
years."
adopt management
practices that will optimize - Farmer
grain yields and quality.
Optimizing yields and "Packages and
quality may be the best programs to help
way to help guard guide producers
individual farms against
through the stress
fluctuations in prices.
Increasing farmers’ access periods are needed."
to grain markets. - Grain Sector Expert
Contributing to ecological
resilience, for example by “It’s not just
protecting soil health. physical pieces but
Helping to increase how can they
collaboration in the sector, respond to things
encouraging collective
quickly...  that’s the
understanding of what
social capital piece.”
changes are needed in the
- Grain Buyer
sector and working
together to make those
changes.

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improvements & next steps

All of the improvements and next steps listed in other sections of this report will contribute
to resilience of the organic grain sector, including improving collaboration in the organic
sector, increasing quality and quantity of organic grain, increasing markets and market
access, and supporting transition to organic management.

Future programs should try to strengthen the sector even further by improving organic crop
insurance programs, better price discovery mechanisms, and the ability to offer higher
premiums for farmers during transition with long-term buyer relationships.

Future programs should also continue to work towards a common vision for resilience and
stability in the Prairie Organic Grain Sector. Having a common vision can help to:

Build consensus around how to judge what we are looking for,


Communicate with partners and stakeholders about why projects like the Prairie Organic
Grain Initiative are needed,
Guide development of data collection systems and tools to gather meaningful evidence
about the sector, and
Assess how well we are doing in terms of building a resilient and stable organic grain
sector.

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what does a resilient organic
grain sector look like?
A SUGGESTION BASED ON POGI'S WORK SINCE 2014

QUANTITY AND ENVIRONMENTAL


QUALITY OF GRAIN SUSTAINABILITY
A critical mass of organic grain farmers Most or all farmers use management
are more resilient because they have practices that sustain or regenerate the
adopted best management practices. This natural environment, including
results in higher soil health, grain quality considerations for soil health, protection of
and yields, which all help to face threats soil from erosion, effective soil water
like weather and fluctuating prices.   management, water and air quality
High quality, ongoing research programs protection, effective nutrient management,
provide information on how to more natural pollination and pest and disease
effectively deal with weeds/pests/disease, suppression services, reductions in
increase soil health/fertility, increase greenhouse gas emissions and enhanced
yields, tolerate drought/flood tolerance, carbon sequestration.
and increase nutritional values.   There is government and public support for
Resources, training and environmental sustainability, including
extension/agronomic support is well awareness of how organic grain sector fits
distributed, sustainable, consistent, and with other related environmental, climate
easily accessible to grain farmers. and food movements.

MARKETS AND COLLABORATION AND


PROFITABILITY SOCIAL CAPITAL
Grain produced on the prairies is able to Organic associations have strong capacity
meet demand and allow growth of domestic and are working with farmers, government,
and international markets. researchers and other organizations to
Strong and stable relationships across the
identify sector-wide challenges, address
value chains, and diversity built into
markets. gaps and minimize redundancies, implement
Grain farmers and processors are able to action plans and advocate for programs and
adapt to shocks and maximize their policies.
profitability. Farmers have many opportunities to connect
Programs are in place at a sector level to with and learn from each other, particularly
minimize risks and increase farmers’ farmers in similar regions, using similar
buffering capacity against risk (e.g. crop
methods and facing similar challenges.
insurance, payment for ecological goods and
services, and subsidies and programs for Farmers feel a sense of community and have
risk management). a network of support for shocks and upsets.

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